Polar Fresh strike: interview

Ryan Laws, afternoon shift delegate at Polar Fresh and Socialist Alternative member, spoke to Red Flag about the strike.

Tell us about the build-up to the strike. 

In the months preceding the strike, our key demands – a $30 hourly rate and getting rid of labour hire altogether – were decided at a series of mass meetings. It was these demands – which came from the rank and file – that inspired people to want to get involved and active and take the campaign seriously. We also went into it from the very beginning knowing that the only way we were going to come forward in a serious way was if we were prepared to strike. 

In the lead-up we were agitating around demanding that we actually get something out of this agreement, in other words, that people don’t just have really limited expectations about what’s possible. Otherwise, it would have meant that nobody was really interested in fighting. If you’re not going to win anything serious, then there’s no point taking the risks and sacrifices that are needed for a struggle like this. 

What was the best thing about the strike?

It was clear that our strike totally threw the company for a loop. It was obvious to us when the strike was coming up and they started to move all the stock to these other warehouses that the company had been preparing for months. Still, with all that planning, the effectiveness of the strike meant that within a day they were already running out of stock. They were completely incapable of dealing with the chaos that we created. 

The other important thing is that people developed a real sense of confidence and inspiration from the strike. It was the first time that we’d ever been on strike at Polar Fresh. It was the first time a lot of these workers had struck, so the sense of power and confidence and solidarity that we got out of it – I think that that could have the most lasting impact on the shed. 

What are the challenges now?

There were a lot of people who wanted to take things further and that thought that it was possible to win $30 an hour now. All sorts of people came forward during the strike and were involved in a bunch of different things. So I think that developing the confidence of these people who can then lead the rest of the workforce is going to be really key. 

I also think that management is pretty angry right now. They’re pretty raw about being forced to give up a deal that they did not expect to have to give up. It’s tough to know what will happen when we go back in and in the coming months, but we have to be prepared to maintain the gains that we’ve won, protect all our members and union delegates from any reprisals from management and build for the next struggle.